Could Prison System Contribute To Increased Spread Of COVID-19?
There is a growing fear among local Correctional Officers that a lack of attention and preparedness in the New York State Prison System could result in an increased spread of COVID-19.
Bryan Hluska is the Central Region Vice President for The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA). He speaks for several of his fellow Correctional Officers when he expresses deep concern over how the system is being run in the midst of this crisis.
For starters, Hluska feels the transferring of inmates throughout the system needs to be halted immediately, especially downstate inmates being transferred upstate. Hluska says with known confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in the New York State system, that should be reason enough to not move anyone. He says the state should halt all non-emergency transport of inmates.
Hluska tells WIBX,
Up until this week inmates were being transferred all over the state including the CNY area, despite NYSCOPBA’s request to halt transportation. We asked for this weeks ago.
Policies within the prison are also causing concern due to the lack of social distancing. Hluska says he wants inmates to be taken out of double bunks for social distancing. He tells WIBX, "The double bunks forces two grown men to live in a space no bigger than a parking spot. The other issue is that the inmates are still going to the weight rooms and gymnasiums, it should be out door rec only for social distancing."
As far as PPE the only thing we are provided is rubber gloves. We are not given or allowed to provide our own N95 masks, despite NYC Corrections allowing their officers to bring in their own N95 mask.
With several prisons being closed down for years across the state, there is minimal room for the inmates that are housed in state prisons making social distancing near impossible. With people being contained in that space with such close contact, the risk of spreading COVID-19 is likely to increase. That brings up the question of Correctional Officer and prison staff safety. Another concern Hluska has is the lack of Personal Protective Equipment. Hluska says, "As far as PPE the only thing we are provided is rubber gloves. We are not given or allowed to provide our own N95 masks, despite NYC Corrections allowing their officers to bring in their own N95 mask."
NYSCOPBA President Michael B. Powers has penned a letter to Anthony Annucci, Acting Commissioner of The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, expressing these and several other concerns. You can read the full four page letter by clicking the link below.
Another concern is the risk of exposure and spread from inmates to Correctional Officers and in turn Correctional Officers to the general public. "Our biggest fear is bringing COVID-19 home to our families and spreading it to the public," says Hluska. He adds, "We are essential staff so we must work inside the prisons with inmates being transferred all over the state. That does not help to contain this virus."
WIBX has reached out to the Public Information Office at The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and are awaiting a response.